Gift Baskets for the “Tremendous” Cooks on Your Gift List

If the idea of gift baskets for the cooks on your Christmas list piques your interest, you’re going to love this gift-guide, which continues to be very popular having posted last year to rave reviews and many notes of praise.

It is the late humorist and master of salesmanship, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, who said one of my favorite quotes of all time: “You are the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read.” 

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While he didn’t specify, I’m nearly certain Mr. Jones was talking about cookbooks. Reading cookbooks has changed me. Not only have they made me a better cook, learning how to do it and falling in love with the activity has impacted our household finances, tremendously.

Little by little, as I have become a better cook, we naturally eat at home more. The more I read, the more I cook; the more I cook the better cook I become and the more often we eat at home. It’s a beautiful thing!

The hubs and I have reached the point that eating out has become more of a “Do we have to?!” than a “We get to.” We eat at home, gladly, at least 99 percent of the time.

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House Rules for Cleaning Silver in the Dishwasher

I grew up being fearful of the oddest things. I wasn’t bold enough to question why, so I just did as I was told. Here’s one: Never, ever put good dishes or silver flatware in the dishwasher. Ever! I didn’t know what would happen if I did, but you can be sure that my fear of the unknown made certain I didn’t come close to finding out. Until my rebellious years.

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Once I had my own china and my own silver, I was reckless enough to believe I wouldn’t go to jail if I violated this particular “Thou shalt not!” I was reminded of what I’ve learned about putting silver in the dishwasher when the following question showed up in my inbox:

Dear Mary: I have a set of silver flatware that I use daily. I notice that after a few times through a normal cycle, the pieces become very tarnished. It is not a particularly good set, just a nice set of flatware for daily use. Do you think that the dishwashing detergent is tarnishing the silver? Anne

Dear Anne: Your silver plate or sterling silver pieces can go in the dishwasher and come out beautiful as long as you follow a few specific guidelines. Case in point: The small pie server in the photo above is one of my favorite things. I love it for its size and just the way it feels in my hand. I use it daily and it goes in the dishwasher every evening—by itself in its own little compartment so that it is not touching any other type of metal. Since I inherited it many years ago I have done nothing to it but use it, clean it and enjoy it.

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How a Simple Solution Changed Everything for One Family

Congratulations to Tom P. and Barbara B. for winning copies of Debt-Proof Your Christmas from our recent giveaway!

There are two main types of illness: acute and chronic. An acute illness doesn’t last very long. It goes away either on its own or in response to treatment, such as taking medicine or having surgery. A chronic illness or condition is ongoing. It affects your health over a long period of time—possibly your entire life. That’s the kind of situation EC Reader Gina’s family was dealing with. Then lo and behold ….

Dear Mary: My husband and both of my children have chronic skin problems. One doctor diagnosed them with eczema, but curiously nothing, including prescription medications, have brought lasting relief. We have spent a small fortune going from one dermatologist to another not to mention all of lotions, potions and other medications prescribed. Not once did any of these professionals suggest they might be allergic to laundry softeners. When I read  “Fabric Softeners are the Problem, Not the Solution,” a lightbulb went on.

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I’m a serial softener user. For years, I’ve used liquid softener and dryer sheets just to make sure. How could I have not thought about this? It made a lot of sense that they could be allergic to this stuff. I wasted no time getting the wool dryer balls you recommend. I gave up softener products cold turkey and began using the dryer balls instead. I was like a crazy woman washing and re-washing clothes and bedding. I got three gallons of white vinegar to make sure I had enough to add to every rinse cycle. 

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I Just Booked Cheap Travel—Again!

The last time I wrote about how I book cheap travel, the response was huge! And some of those messages were from skeptical readers who were pretty sure I couldn’t do that on a regular basis. I’m excited to let you know I just did … again!

I’m on my way out the door, this time headed for California. What could have been a very expensive trip is going to be so cheap, even I am amazed.

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This is a last minute trip so I have not had the benefit of being able to book well in advance. In fact, I’ve had only five days advance notice of this trip.

FLIGHT: My first choice in air travel is now Southwest (SWA). I try to keep all of my flights with the same airline to build up my frequent flier miles. Usually that works pretty well. I’ve found that in most cases, SWA is very competitive. The cheapest roundtrip fare for flights that fit my schedule for this trip—a whopping $742. Gulp!  Granted I don’t have the luxury of booking 21 days in advance, but still that number made me wonder if I’d made a mistake. But no, that really is SWA’s best price. I put the reservation on “hold” to give myself time to shop around. Most airlines will do this for 24 hours.

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Know Thy Dishwasher

I would like to thank Josephine Cochrane of Illinois. I’d like to, but I can’t. She’s been dead for more than a century. But if I could, I’d thank her for inventing the dishwasher. Personally, I’d give up just about anything before my dishwasher.

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I’ll admit to being a stickler when it comes to properly washed dishes, glassware and utensils. If they come out spotted, gritty or cloudy I’m not happy.

If your dishwasher is not turning out beautifully clean, cloudless, spot-free, sparkling dishes, pots, glassware and flatware—without hand washing them first—don’t assume the dishwasher is broken. If it runs, you can make sure it runs well. And you can stop that pre-washing.

Years ago before we remodeled and sold our home in California, I’d lived with a low-end, plain wrap, well-used, 18-year old dishwasher. All was well until I began noticing that it was just not doing well. Dishes came out feeling gritty, glasses were streaked and cloudy, food remained stuck to flatware. Ugh. It was really bad. I assumed my Tappan had lived out its useful life and deserved to be put down.

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The Secret for Debt-Free Holiday Season in One Word: Predetermine

It’s not exactly a new word to me. But I’m pretty sure I’d never actually used the word predetermine in a sentence until just a few weeks ago when my pastor referred to it—and in a way that turned on a bright light in my noggin.

To predetermine is to make a decision in advance.  That describes perfectly what it means to budget. You get your paycheck and before you do anything with it, you predetermine where every dollar will go. You give each dollar a job to do—in advance. You predetermine!

Here we are on the cusp of one more glorious, fabulous, exciting and joyful Holiday Season. How can we do this without going into debt? Predetermine. That’s it! Decide or establish in advance what we will do, how much we will spend; where you will go, what you will do. Yes, I know that sounds very much like a Spending Plan and it is. The way to get to a Spending Plan is to—you guessed it!—predetermine

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Let’s Talk Induction Cooking, Shall We?

I have to tell you that receiving the following message put the biggest smile on my face. Induction cooking? Oh yes, I do know something about that! But I must confess that the prologue to Cathy’s question is what warmed my heart.

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Dear Mary: First of all, I want to thank you, thank you, thank you for your 20 plus years of advice and guidance! I have purchased your books, READ your books, and given them as gifts many times. I hardly EVER buy anything or try a new product without checking with you first. I know that if YOU have endorsed it, I can trust it. Thank you for promoting quality and value in all the products and ideas you share. Your work is amazing.

That being said, my husband and I just purchased a home. The gas stove and microwave oven are 28 years old. Although they both still work, (I know, they don’t make them like this anymore) they look their age and I question the safety of the microwave. I was ready to purchase a mid-level free-standing gas range and looked back on your recommendations of the GE line.

However, on a recent shopping trip we were introduced to electric induction ranges. Wow, was I impressed! The convenience and control of a gas stove top with the an easy-to-clean smooth top. This has totally confused my decision. Induction cooktops are still quite a bit more expensive, so it’s a big choice. The salesperson was unable to identify any drawbacks to these ranges at this time—other than the fact that we may have to purchase new cookware, which he said can be purchased for around $300 for an adequate set. 

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DIY Holiday Gift Idea: Spa in a Jar

If you are at all familiar with a wonderful yet pricey personal care product, Salt Rub® by Origins, you may know that for some very odd reason, it has been discontinued. I know. How could they do this?

Origins now offers in its place some kind of ginger scrub concoction that contains sugar and spice. I think it is just awful, which makes me even happier that I know how to make my own version of Origins Salt Rub. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This may be the perfect gift you’ve been searching for—one you can make yourself for many on your Christmas Gift List.

A mixture of salt and oil, authentic salt rub resembles wet, slushy snow. Unlike bath salts that are used in a tub bath, salt scrub is used in the shower. So you have a better idea, before I tell you how to make it, here is the kind of instruction you would print on a tag or label for the finished salt scrub:

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